The Guard House
Maybe it’s just me, but I find that things that appear odd often are. It took a few weeks, but I finally had a good look at the guard house at the entrance to the residential development we recently moved into.
What’s odd about that?
There is no visible access from the outside.
Both of the doors seem to be secured from behind, from inside the small building. This means that whoever screwed them into place would have had no escape.
Frasier Lake, KY – 2002
The camel’s back had been severely bent. Doug Whitaker and his partner, Jerry Hernandez, were sons of carpenters and masons, and they vowed to continue the family’s traditions. Although new house construction was their strong suit, they wanted to impress the developer of the 160 acre plot of land that would be home to 116 new houses. So, they decided to build the guard house for free.
Actually, Jerry decided to build the guard house for free. Doug had vehemently disagreed, as he always did. And not just because he was never consulted. This sort of money-losing commitment had been driving a wedge between them. In Doug’s mind, these ‘gifts’ of Jerry’s were no longer creating any new work or making any sincere friends with any authority to create work. Perfectly good opportunities for actual profit-generating time were squandered.
When they started the company, Jerry was to be the marketing and sales guy, and Doug was to be the manager. Initially, it was just the two of them, and it worked. Doug was a bit geeky, tall and thin, but served as the get-er-done guy, a brilliant manager and quality provider while Jerry’s big smile and gregarious ways stuck to the builders who had hands-on construction backgrounds.
But that was twenty-five years ago. These days, builders are more likely to have MBA degrees. Jerry and his big gut belonged to the hammer-and-nail fraternity, and over the years he fell farther out of touch with the people who could actually keep the firm busy. But he didn’t see it. Doug did.
The already stretched profit margins kept getting stretched thinner. To make things worse, Jerry had married Doug’s sister. And that relationship wasn’t going well, either.
Twelve years before, the Residential Pride Construction Company was doing well. At that time, it was still a good-ole-boy’s club, one that had accepted Jerry Fernandez. But Jerry failed to see the winds of change, mainly from online competitors. His buddies were still his buddies, but they were now employees of some conglomerate run out of New York or Phoenix.
Doug saw all of this, but Jerry refused to. Two months ago, it came to a head.
“Buck Newman doesn’t make any decisions, you prick!” Doug was yelling. He was half-way into the kind of rant that had become commonplace in the offices of RPC, offices which had shrunk in direct proportion to the amount of work they managed to book.
“He influences the decision-makers, Doug,” Jerry shouted back. “It’s still the way business is done.”
“No it is damn NOT! When’s the last time Buck gave us a job?” Doug’s face was bright red with anger. “Tell me. When?”
Jerry had to think a minute. “We’ll get this one. Fifteen houses. Nice deal.”
In case you’re thinking that Doug was the hot-head, you’re right. But he was at least a realist. “Builders want cheap! You keep selling quality. They don’t give a crap! Build it, sell it, run.”
“Easy, Doug. We’ll be just fine. Everything will work out.” Jerry, on the other hand, was always calm. ‘Situational blindness’ is what Doug diagnosed him with. Everything would just work out was not a business strategy. Unfortunately, that was also Jerry’s approach to the marriage to Doug’s sister, Sara. That wasn’t working, either. And all the angst had put a severe strain Doug’s own marriage.
Sara wanted out. Doug wanted out. Jerry had simply devoured both of them. Life had become unbearable.
Unfortunately, neither of them could get out of their situations gracefully. In a moment of weakness, Doug agreed to the insertion of a poison pill clause into the corporate papers. Doug couldn’t buy Jerry out; and vice versa.
So, they were all stuck, and damn angry about it. Jerry hated Doug because Doug wanted to change the way business had always been conducted. Doug hated Jerry because he was ruining not only the company, but his future and that of his sister. It all was close to the breaking point.
It boiled over in late August.
“Doug, Paulie and Jake finished the rough-in on the guard house. We just have to button it up.”
“For no money.”
“No, we still pay them.”
Doug shook his head vigorously. “Look, dickhead, I mean we don’t get any money. This is another one of your freebies.”
“Yes. But, in fairness, we have a good shot at most of the houses in the development.”
“Bullshit! This is the LAST one! Even if we get paying jobs from now on, we may not be able to dig ourselves out of the hole you dug for us.”
Jerry shrugged. “Everything will…”
“..work out. I know. But it never DOES!” Doug spat.
Jerry leaned back in his chair and a rare expression of peace crossed his face. “I promise I won’t take another freebie. But…”
“But what!!?” Doug’s anger was far from dissipating.
“If you help me finish the guard house, we’ll change our ways. From now on, you’re the boss. We do everything your way. Okay?”
That released a little air from the red hot balloon that had expanded in his head. “You promise?”
Jerry nodded. “If I don’t live up to that, you can buy me out at whatever price you think is fair.”
Now Doug leaned back in his chair. He had never seen this Jerry before. He doubted his sincerity, of course, but it was worth a shot.
After dinner, the partners drove to the site and unpacked their tools. They mudded up the final stretch of brick work, leaving a small opening that would serve as an exit point. The windows weren’t really windows but framed out openings, solid. And the doors were simply door-shaped openings with plywood behind. The developer wanted it sealed so ‘homeless’ people wouldn’t use it as a second home—or first home.
One of the partners entered, taking a battery-powered lantern with him and set out to screw the faux doors to the frames. When it was finished, he called to the other partner waiting outside. “Done! Let’s get the hell outta here.”
Before the partner could fully turn towards the narrow gap in the masonry to exit, he was greeted by the impact of a very large and very heavy pipe wrench. The man went down and inertia slid him against the far wall—where he lay still. A simple needle was inserted into his arm and the contents discharged.
It only took twenty minutes to complete the final bricking-up from the outside. The attacking partner would go home and try to pick up his life. He pondered his available time-frames: he figured it would take five years to get the company back to the place it had been. But, he wasn’t so sure that fixing his marriage would happen.
For the now-deceased attacked partner, the option of having any time-frames at all to ponder was long past possible. His remains have not been found.